Theatre N16, London – until 24 May 2017
Helen (Laura McKee) is a soulless beauty, Medea (Lucy Avison) a heartless mother and Phaedra (Niamh Branigan) a scorned wife. What characters Euripides put onto the stage, some of the original feminists.
In Madelaine Cunningham’s script, they await their fate after death, stuck between Elysium and Tartarus. She herself lords over them as queen Clytemnestra, the power-hungry murderess. The concept of such powerful women in the same room is initially intriguing, trying to constantly outdo and undo each other for the ultimate title of power. But Full Circle lacks bite or drive – like its name suggests, it simply repeats the same situational concept of each woman to strip down the other.
This is an ensemble piece, each woman being gifted with monologues, an emotional narrative and a return to their beginning in order to examine what has changed. Medea (Avison) is most successful in capitalising on the script – reactionary with intent, a show of pain and hurt that underpins an inner strength to overcome her obstacles. The others are more stunted in conveying the pathos behind their story; by comparison they feel far too academic.
Cunningham’s script picks up on some interesting power dynamics – the desire for younger sister to outwit older, for youth to overcome experience. But the to-and-fro is unestablished and lacks credibility of justification, the final point at which Clytemnestra proves worthy of wielding her title arrives far too fast and cuts off too abruptly. Cunningham begins to settle into her role only to find it cut short, snubbed of the chance to expand and invite in the audience.
Full Circle supposedly comes back round to allow its characters and audience alike time to reflect on the changes undergone, or possibly on the inevitably of a change being counterbalanced to return to the status quo. But without sufficient substance, the main question to ponder is whether there was enough meat on the bone to merit an hour-long performance. Not in this case.